Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Project Proposal - Richard McKita

For my final project, I am going to attempt to compose a short story which successfully synthesizes the themes of the class into a coherent, emotionally resonant artistic expression.

Why A Creative Project
I am choosing to do a creative project, rather than a traditional essay, because I feel that the lessons of this course have been just as much about how and why an author can express a relationship with technology through literature rather than simply a philosophical analysis of the modern relationship with technology or particular authors' responses to technology. As a writing-intensive course this class has heavily emphasized the process of writing and revising, and I think that using those skills to compose a creative piece on the themes of the class will serve as a fitting contribution. By making my final project a short story, I will be able to use the writing skills developed over the length of the course in a different context than the traditional essay, and allow the reader (fellow student or professor) a different view of my experience of the course material which emphasizes emotional, creative reactions as well as the intellectual reaction found in an essay.

The content of my short story will be made up of five vignettes in the life of a single character, devoid as much as possible of identifying characteristics, dealing alternately with everyday routines and hallucinatory nightmare scenarios. The sections of daily life will drag the readers through the mundane experience of Marcuse's one-dimensional society; a living situation which is deeply lacking any critical function, erotic experience, or meaningful human connection. I will be focusing especially on the ideas of repressive desublimation (perhaps made even more extreme in the 21st century that in Marcuse's '60s - consider the rise of Internet pornography, the music video, etc. etc.) and behavioral/operational thinking.

Between these sections I will use the character's nightmares to depict the mirror image or negative reality of the situation. Horror and abject terror and pain replace the spiritual numbness of the everyday in order to present the deep emptiness and misery that go along with what is seemingly routine and dull, and also faintly echo the human misery (Foxconn, sweatshops, war, CIA black sites etc.) that goes into supporting the life of those in one-dimensional Western technological societies. In this way I will present the traces of dialectical/negative thinking in the character's unconscious experience of his reality and present the frighteningly ambiguous vision of the future which Marcuse presents (as in his introduction, where he says that he is not sure if there is really a positive way out of the problems of modern society).

I feel that this is a more accurate artistic portrayal of Marcuse's vision rather than, say, a kind of 1984-like totalitarian situation which is tempting for its dramatic effect but ultimately falls short of the truth of life under liberal democracy. Instead I will flirt with this type of mythology in the nightmare sections only. This will represent the character's sort of obscene nostalgia for a situation which is both objectively horrible and yet would grant him a more coherent identity as victim of an overt fascist torturer etc. etc. This kind of paradox will be important in the narrative.

Narrative Technique
Throughout the real-world sections of the narrative it will be important for me to never directly refer to the character himself, or his inner life; rather than traditional novelistic narration I will use an extremely objectified third-person voice which hides all traces of the character and instead focus entirely on his technologically mediated environment. This technique will allow me to depict the character entirely under the spell of one-dimensional thought: his existence in the story is entirely a set of operations performed on objects in the world, incapable of anything but "positive thinking."

However, the nightmare sections of the story will depict a more dramatic and extreme situation which the character unconsciously desires, a scenario which will grant him identity as the victim or opponent of a monstrous doctor/scientist figure who represents a cartoonish exaggeration of the more covertly oppressive one-dimensional society. This situation is created as a nightmare for the character in order to grant him the semblance of an identity, and will enable the narrator for the duration of the nightmare the ability to directly refer to the character and his thoughts.

As mentioned earlier, the narrative will take the form of five vignettes, alternating real-world scenarios with nightmares. Each real-world section will focus on a specific aspect of modern technological life, and the ways in which a specific experience is alienating and dehumanizing for modern human beings. Ultimately I feel that the story will have to have this kind of repetitive, episodic form because one aspect of Marcuse's thought which I am especially focusing on is precisely his ambiguity and lack of definite faith in a solution. This attitude also struck me as extremely common among the authors we have read in class (note the endings of Jimmy Corrigan, Frankenstein, House of Leaves, Life In the Iron-Mills, etc. etc.) as well as many people in our class (myself included) during discussion. Because it is such a prevalent attitude and seemingly so unavoidable for people trying to grapple with modernity, I feel that a truthful artistic depiction would have to formally incorporate this ambiguity and therefore do some damage to the traditional idea of a happy or even conclusive ending which appears at the end of a linear narrative arc.


Caia Caldwell said...

I really like your project idea. It sounds fascinating, and I think you give a good solid reasoning on why you would prefer to do a creative project versus a traditional essay. So as you said, it would be 5 vignettes alternating between daytime of one-dimensional thinking, and nighttime of negative thinking. If you are going to write the daytime in 3rd person, maybe you should consider the writing the nighttime in 1st person.
Marcuse writes about so many different topics under the umbrella of “one-dimensional”, so I would be careful not to tackle too many different themes. Already you mention positive/negative thinking, repressive desublimation, and modernity. Even though they all tie into one another, they are each separate topics to address.
It sounds like even though you will be sticking with Marcuse, there will be obvious references to Jimmy Corrigan. While you could choose to expand on this, I believe short story would also work with just hints of Chris Ware.

Adam said...

You know my main thoughts already, although I'll hit a couple of the high points again.

1) Doing formally aberrant work is challenging. Because it's challenging, it's important to have a fallback plan - if you find that, as story, it doesn't ultimately hold together even when you work on it hard, fall back on adding an essay component. There's no shame in that! The extreme objectivity has potential, but also peril - that's the main reason I bring it up.

2) I look forward to seeing how this develops in a way that carries Marcuse forward into the present, which is one way that I read your concerns.

3) To add to what Caia's saying - the image of Jimmy Corrigan (a Jimmy 20 years later, of course), is useful, here - maybe to clarify and focus.

Anyway, full speed ahead. This will be challenging, so allow plenty of time for revising!